If you love underdog sports movies, you will love this recent episode of Radiolab. It tells the story of John Scott, an unskilled ice hockey thug who ended up with his helmet displayed in the NHL Hall of Fame.

The Bridge:

This podcast documents important moments from the 2018 Art & Industry Festival that relate to the history and significance of the West Gate Bridge. It will take you to symposiums; intimate accounts from workers who survived the collapse; scenes from the recent production of The Bridge, a play written by the late Vicki Reynolds in 1990, which tells the stories of the bridge workers using verbatim techniques; and, finally, to a special performance of ‘Throw your arms around me’ by Mark Seymour, James Henry and local community singers (led by Jennifer Lund), largely sung in the Yuwaalaraay language.

Tampopo is streaming via SBS until November — watch it. The main “ramen western” story is good, but it is the little food comedy sketches that are interposed that really carry it. (My favourite is the spaghetti scene.)

The Great Sydney Lemon Crisis of 2019:

Sam Yilmaz, owner of Our Kebab and Pide on Oxford Street, said the lemon situation was “crazy”.

“Lemons are getting expensive, and people, I don’t know why, they know lemons are expensive, when they come they keep asking for lemons. They ask for lemon after lemon, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But he said his shop was coping for now.

“We don’t use lemons that much. One box will last us maybe two weeks. It doesn’t really affect us. Maybe a fish shop is a different story. But some people, I don’t know why, but they keep asking for extra lemon, it drives me crazy.”


The other day I retweeted a very impressive video of a Japanese monk juggling a ball with his foot while skipping. It was only later that I realised it was a protest action against heavy-handed policing:

“Soui” (僧衣) is a term that refers to the traditional clothing that is worn by monks in Japan.
Recently a monk who was driving a car was pulled over by a police officer in Fukui who argued that his clothing was unsafe to wear while operating a vehicle because it limits movement too much. The officer seemed to be assuming that the long robes could get caught on the pedals or the long sleeves could get caught somewhere.

Soon the internet responded. Many people on the internet who were more familiar with “soui” showed concern about the unfair practice of punishing motorists for wearing such robes. People demonstrated their range of movement and agility while dressed in monks garb. Some young monks showed off juggling, doings flips and demonstrating martial arts while wearing the offending style of clothing. This trend has been gaining attention under the hashtag #僧衣でできるもん (“soui de dekirumon” or “I can do this with monk’s clothes”).

(… and here is my favourite “I can do this with monk’s clothes” protest tweet.)

There was a kid called Joseph
He’d been dealt a bad hand
Was born poor and a bastard
But grew up to be a preacher
Made a new friend called Franz

Joe went over to Franz house
Said: see this poem I once wrote
I feel like it’s got something
Can you please put some music
To my words

Looking down at the paper
And the title read:
 Silent Night

Today is the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Silent Night, and the best Christmas hymn of 2018 is Annika Norlin’s meta-song about how it was written and popularised. It’s beautiful.

(If you want more Christmas music, here is my 2018 mix.)

Life imitates art… In Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, Roger Wilco accesses a secure area of the ScumSoft headquarters by holding up a picture of the boss to fool a facial scanner. Now, a 3D-printed head can be used to defeat the facial recognition locks on Android phones.

A poacher in Missouri — one of a group who illegally slaughtered hundreds of deer for “trophies — was sentenced to a year in prison, and:

At least one time per month, that Defendant is to view the Walt Disney movie Bambi, with the first viewing being on or before December 23, 2018, and at least such viewing each month thereafter during the Defendants incarceration in the Lawrence County Jail.

Could watching a cartoon film change someone’s attitudes? Perhaps. On a recent episode of The Allusionist, clinical psychologist Jane Gregory described a study that found viewing Charlotte’s Web as part of exposure therapy had a measurable impact on people’s fear of spiders.

The English-language version of the Shonen Jump manga magazine is dead — but it has been replaced with a US$2/mo digital subscription that unlocks the entire Jump back catalogue.

A little while ago I considered picking up a couple of long-running series, but couldn’t justify the expense. For instance, My Hero Academia and World Trigger had about 15 volumes each at US$7, so it would cost almost AU$300 to catch up. And they are relatively short — Bleach has 74 volumes! Now all of these are available as part of the $2 subscription.

That’s my summer comics reading sorted…

My favourite thing about this CastlevaniaBot project is that it had to be programmed to be imperfect so that the game remained interesting:

When speedrunners play through Castlevania, they perform maneuvers that make the game as deterministic as possible. For example, at the end of Level 1, they discovered that if they break the block and collect the shot upgrade with a particular timing sequence, then the boss will respond with a favorable pattern, resulting in a quick win.

No matter how skilled they are, humans cannot fully tame the RNG [random number generator]; however, since CastlevaniaBot can control button presses at frame granularity, it could take that speedrunning concept to the extreme by playing exactly the same game during each run. If it did, it would hardly be better than a TAS [tool-assisted speedrun] recording. Instead, CastlevaniaBot deliberately introduces minute errors and delays into its actions using its own external RNG to avoid deterministic gameplay. For instance, when it whips a high candle it intentionally delays the jump and the whip strike by a few random frames. Tiny changes like that have a significantly effect on how the game plays out.

I’ve never enjoyed Super Smash Bros because it is just a kaleidoscope of getting my arse kicked, but anyway this Smash Bros-themed performance is lots of fun.

We’re, what — three-quarters of the way through the PICO-8 Advent Calendar, so there are a bunch of fun little games there if you’re looking for a 5-minute diversion.

More terrifying news from China:

iFlytek, a voice recognition technology provider in China, has begun censoring politically sensitive terms from its translation app, South China Morning Post reported citing a tweet by Jane Manchun Wong. Wong is a software engineer who tweets frequently about hidden features she uncovers by performing app reverse-engineering.

In the tweet, Wong shows that when she tried to translate certain phrases such as “Taiwan independence,” “Tiananmen square” and “Tiananmen square massacre” from English to Chinese, the system failed to churn out results for sensitive terms or names. The same happened when she tried to translate “Taiwan independence” from Chinese to English — results showed up as an asterisk.

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words”:

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.

I think my favourite show this anime season is SSSS.Gridman. It’s an animated version of a tokusatsu show — an early 90s, internet-themed “giant hero” show. Nick Creamer’s review captures what I like best about it:

Between its encroaching powerlines, its vast grey skies, and its shadowed school halls, there is a sense of solemnity and quiet alienation to this place that makes all of its fantastical drama feel strangely real.

The opening scene of the 2015 pilot short encapsulates it well.

A 75% stake in Aardman Studios is being transferred to employee ownership. This will be through an employee ownership trust that holds the shares in perpetuity for the benefit of all employees.

Everyone who works for the company (including freelancers) for at least 3 months in a financial year will be entitled to a dividend payment, and the workers will participate in management decisions through a representative council.

I wondered where the money came from to buy out the current owners’ share, and it seems the company has been building up cash reserves over years to allow this to happen — it’s a wonderful recognition of the company’s workforce, and prevents it being bought and destroyed by huge conglomerates. Excellent!

Perhaps this carpenter is a drunken master?

China’s netizens are all in a twitter over the account of a carpenter who was commissioned to make a cinnabar red high-backed chair with the finials at the top to be “in the shape of dragons’ heads” (chéng lóngtóu 成龍頭). Unfortunately, he misinterpreted the directions to mean “[in the shape of] Jackie Chan’s head” (“Chénglóng tóu 成龍頭”).

I’m having fun with Holedown, on Virginia’s recommendation. The gameplay is a bit like a mix of Breakout, Tetris, and Orbital’s precision mode. (Orbital remains the best local two-player iPad game, even five years after its release.)

When politicians congratulated themselves for criticising Fraser Anning, the press gallery fawned over them. Ruby Hamad calls bullshit:

And, suddenly, racism becomes a white people’s issue again; something to be solved by merely denouncing the most genocidal of racist intentions, without having to actually do anything about the societal conditions that create space for such statements and policies. And so, we are treated to the spectacle of political figures such as Hanson and Malcolm Turnbull assuming the role of Good Cop in contrast with Anning and Katter’s Bad Cop.

It is an absurd state of affairs that Hanson – herself castigated by George “people have a right to be bigots” Brandis – now gets to occupy a moral high ground by denouncing Anning’s “appalling” comments. Likewise Turnbull, who still presides over those refugee torture camps where children are wasting away even as I write this, and who himself not so long ago scolded the Muslim population of western Sydney for its high “No” votes in the laughable postal survey that his government foisted on us after years of dragging its feet on marriage equality, but who now gets to claim pride in Australia’s “successful” multiculturalism.

What a sight to behold as these politicians fall over themselves to pass the most basic of moral tests. In these endless culture wars, race is a cherished weapon, each side playing to its base, trading barbs in parliament and in the media, each presenting themselves as the real benefactor of the baffled “coloureds” consigned to the sidelines. But here is the thing about the good cop/bad cop trope – at the end of the day, they are all cops.

Mastodon is a thing now, and I like its focus on serving users instead of advertisers, and I hope that soon we’re all tooting instead of tweeting.

I watched the first episode of Disenchantment. Pretty good, but the high point of Groening’s career remains writing the foreword to First Dog’s book.

I also watched the first episode of Norsemen. It’s a funny parody of Vikings, featuring a bunch of funny people you’ll recognise from Lillyhammer.

Tim Dunlop:

Anning, like a lot of people who espouse this sort of rot, would no doubt tell you how much he loves Australia, but I think the opposite is true.

People like Anning don’t love Australia. They hate it.

What they actually love is White Australia, in all its dated, discredited irrelevance.

Actually existing, multicultural Australia, where half the population was either born overseas or has at least one parent who was, fills people like Anning with hate and disgust and they want to see it destroyed.

We need to get this through our heads: those who share Anning’s worldview are not patriots, they are traitors to the place Australia actually is. We are multicultural all the way down and we will remain that way unless…unless what?

It is surely no accident that Anning evoked the notion of a ‘final solution’ in his speech.

Read the whole thing.

When it popped up as a suggestion on Netflix, we gave A Very Secret Service a go, and it turns out to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages. Bureaucracy porn (expense claims! receipts! rubber stamps!) with a very dry sense of humour.

At the tail end of an episode of Motherfoclóir, Éimear Duffy was asked to nominate a film to remake with all of the cast but one replaced by Muppets:

This one’s tough. I want to come up with something mad obscure, and I really want to say, like, Fatal Deviation… Filmed in 1998 in Trim, it is Ireland’s first and probably only full-length martial arts film, and it’s all up on YouTube. I would highly recommend you all go watch it because it is the most iconic thing that I have ever watched in my entire life.

Sure enough, Fatal Deviation is available on YouTube and it is everything you imagine. (The human actor Éimear would keep from the original would be Boyzone’s Mikey Graham.)

I’ve been following Hank Cheng on Instagram for a while — his grimy architectural dioramas are a marvel. Last week the ABC profiled Joshua Smith, an Adelaide artist doing similar work, faithfully recreating and preserving Australian urban decay in miniature. Here is his Insta.


A Tokyo medical school has apologised after an internal investigation confirmed it altered entrance exam scores for more than a decade to limit the number of female students and ensure more men became doctors.

Tokyo Medical University manipulated all entrance exam results starting in 2006 or even earlier, according to findings released by lawyers involved in the investigation, confirming recent reports in Japanese media. …

The investigation found that in this year’s entrance exams the school reduced all applicants’ first-stage test scores by 20% and then added at least 20 points for male applicants, except those who had previously failed the test at least four times. It said similar manipulations had occurred for years because the school wanted fewer female doctors since it anticipated they would shorten or halt their careers after becoming mothers.

This policy killed people:

[Researchers] analyzed two decades of records from Florida emergency rooms, including every patient who had been admitted with a heart attack from 1991 to 2010. They showed that women are more likely to die when treated by male doctors, compared to either men treated by male doctors or women treated by female doctors.

“These results suggest a reason why gender inequality in heart attack mortality persists: Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients,” the team writes.

… The male doctors in their study were better at treating women with heart attacks when they had more experience treating such patients—and especially when they worked in hospitals with more female doctors. … [T]he study suggests that when the proportion of female physicians in an emergency department rises by 5 percent, the survival rates of the women treated there rise by 0.4 percentage points.

The Dragon’s Tomb is a series of parody instructional videos for various board games — and not only does he poke fun at the games, but he creates new, viable games using the components of the originals. Take a look at Cards Against Humanity and Carcassonne (or “carcass own”) to see what I mean.

For The Win: a promising new podcast about “the people, strategy and campaigns that changed Australia forever”.

All of the good things you have heard about Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette (transcript) are correct. It is very funny, very moving, and very challenging. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I do take issue with one point Gadsby makes in her conclusion. She builds the show around the relief theory of humour — that jokes work by building tension and then offering a release. And she notes that her show has used anger to build that tension:

The only way I can tell my truth and put tension in the room is with anger. And I am angry, and I believe I’ve got every right to be angry! But what I don’t have a right to do is to spread anger. I don’t. Because anger, much like laughter, can connect a room full of strangers like nothing else. But anger, even if it’s connected to laughter, will not relieve tension. Because anger is a tension. It is a toxic, infectious tension. And it knows no other purpose than to spread blind hatred, and I want no part of it.

I don’t think she’s right about this. Anger is tension, but it can have other purposes. There are different ways to relieve that tension.

Where anger is caused by a fundamental injustice, any release that fails to address that injustice will be ineffective, and will only cause more anger (or worse, despair). But anger that is relieved by something constructive, something that improves the world and removes the cause of the anger, is righteous anger.

Mahtma Ghandi expressed this powerfully in a speech to the Indian National Congress in 1920:

I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.

Paradoxically, Gadsby’s masterful performance in Nanette is an example of such powerful, controlled anger. She gradually builds empathetic anger in her audience, and then demands they take action to relieve that tension.

Yes, there is the immediate release of the laughter — but she demands longer-term action to address discrimination, to address male violence, to address the lack of diversity in the stories we hear in art and popular culture.

Time will tell whether her call to action will move the world. But it wouldn’t stand a chance if she hadn’t been willing to spread her anger, and I’m glad she had the courage and the strength to do so.

The Secret History of Marxist Alien Hunters:

Trotsky’s followers declared a Fourth International that continued to push for the communist future envisioned by the early Bolsheviks. The handful of Ufologists among them took Tsiokolvsky’s assessment that “Time must pass until the average level of humankind’s development is sufficient for nonearthly dwellers to visit us” as a messianic prediction. The aliens, like communism, linger in the air, waiting for us to make the world ready for them.

I missed this back in December, but the creator of Damo and Darren of Ciggy Butt Brain fame had a very short cartoon series on ABC: Koala Man. (Superheroes with no powers is a favourite genre of mine.)

Lorin Clarke has written a radio play, The Fitzroy Diaries, that paints a wonderful picture of her neighbourhood. It’s airing daily on Radio National, or you can skip ahead and download the whole series now.

Thanks to a heatwave in Ireland, an ancient henge structure has been revealed by soil drying out at different rates:

“In the late Neolithic, people would have built this henge out of timber,” he says. Imagine massive posts — possibly whole tree trunks — planted in pits and postholes.

“Over time, when the monument fell out of use, the wood all rots away and the holes kind of fill up with organic material,” he said. “But they leave a sort of a fingerprint, or a footprint.” Archaeologists can see it in soil samples. And, in a drought, you can see the impact on crops.

“Those filled-in holes retain a slight amount more moisture than the surrounding soil,” Murphy says. “The crop that is growing out of those features has a very small advantage in terms of additional water and it’s very slightly healthier.”

Victor Mari was walking in Hamburg when he saw a long word on a building:

“Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät”.

My feet were glued to the ground. I just looked up at that big, long word and pondered. “Hmmmm,” I thought to myself. “How would we say that in English?”

“‘Law Faculty’ or ‘Faculty of Law.'”

That made me even more unwilling to move on.

For the next few minutes I just stood there processing in my mind the difference between “Law Faculty” and “Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät”. Of course, one could also say “Juristische Fakultät” or “Recht Fakultät” in German, but here at the University of Hamburg, they chose to say “Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät”. I kept thinking to myself, “What are the epistemological implications of saying it that way? How are they conceiving [of] law when they use such a big, complicated word? And how are we understanding jurisprudence when we use such a tiny word as ‘law’?”

Ben Raue has started The Tally Room podcast to complement his excellent website. Based on the first episode, it seems like it will fill a niche for calm and non-partisan discussion of electoral politics.

Paperbark is a pleasant iOS game about a wombat, and it captures the Australian bush perfectly.

How the Enlightenment ends:

If AI learns exponentially faster than humans, we must expect it to accelerate, also exponentially, the trial-and-error process by which human decisions are generally made: to make mistakes faster and of greater magnitude than humans do. It may be impossible to temper those mistakes, as researchers in AI often suggest, by including in a program caveats requiring “ethical” or “reasonable” outcomes. Entire academic disciplines have arisen out of humanity’s inability to agree upon how to define these terms. Should AI therefore become their arbiter?

Hanzi is an interesting documentary about Chinese typeface design. Beautiful. (Watch it free on Kanopy.)

I’m reading Richard Denniss’s Quarterly Essay on what comes after the failure of neoliberalism, and I thought this was worth sharing:

Change is not just possible, it can be invigorating. Australians aren’t suffering “reform fatigue,” they are suffering “boring reform fatigue.” If they are given interesting political questions to debate, there is no reason to believe they won’t be interested in politics again.

oBike is retreating from Melbourne. I have mixed feelings about this: on the one hand, they were typical of the startup culture that thinks an app gives them licence to ignore regulations and social norms; on the other hand, the way the bikes were trashed does not reflect well on Melbourne.

A map of the places Anthony Bourdain visited on his TV shows.

I can’t get my thoughts in order to write something worthy of the man, so I will leave it to the (newly-unionised) New Yorker to sum up what was best about him:

As “Parts Unknown” has evolved, it has become less preoccupied with food and more concerned with the sociology and geopolitics of the places Bourdain visits. Lydia Tenaglia calls the show an “anthropological enterprise.” Increasingly, Chris Collins told me, the mandate is: “Don’t tell me what you ate. Tell me who you ate with.” Bourdain, in turn, has pushed for less footage of him eating and more “B roll” of daily life in the countries he visits. It has become a mantra for him, Collins said: “More ‘B,’ less me.”

Since visiting Beirut, Bourdain has gone on to Libya, Gaza, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, seeking to capture how people go about their daily lives amid violent conflict. To viewers who complain that the show has become too focussed on politics, Bourdain responds that food is politics: most cuisines reflect an amalgamation of influences and tell a story of migration and conquest, each flavor representing a sedimentary layer of history.

For Bourdain, food was the foot-in-the-door to learn (and teach) about people of all walks of life and in every corner of the world.

This year is the centenary of the NSW Women’s Legal Status Act 1918, and it was commemorated by Justice Virginia Bell in an excellent speech to the Forbes Society for Australian Legal History.

She gives a thorough review of the slow and stuttering move towards formal legal equality for women in the UK and Australia. Despite having a broad brushstrokes understanding of this history, it was nevertheless shocking to be reminded how recently the law enshrined opinions like these:

The provisions of legislation stating that in the Municipal Corporation Acts, “words importing the masculine gender shall include females for all purposes connected with the right to vote at the election of councillors” was held [in 1872] not to confer a right on married women to vote in municipal elections. The Court accepted Mr Farrer Herschell’s (later Lord Chancellor Herschell) economical submission that “[a] married woman is not a person in the eye of the law. She is not sui juris”.

I was pleased to see that her Honour has not, since her rise to the highest bench, abandoned her critical perspective. She notes that formal equality did not immediately create actual equality:

The social and economic pressures which largely kept women in the home were not about to give way in the face of a change to their status at law.

Don’t put excessive faith in the legal system. It is a tool, but only one tool, to organise society for the benefit of the people. Law reform is important only to the extent that it creates social and economic equality in people’s day-to-day lives.